NEW DELHI (AP) — Scores of demonstrators demanded Monday that the Indian government repeal a new sexual violence law the Cabinet hurriedly passed last week and replace it with a more comprehensive measure.
Activists said the law, passed by the Cabinet on Friday and signed by the president Sunday, only followed some of the recommendations of a government panel set up after the fatal gang rape of a woman in New Delhi two months ago. That rape led to protests across India, sparked a debate about the treatment of women and highlighted the inability of law enforcement to protect them.
The new law has increased punishments for rape from the existing seven to 10 years to a maximum of 20 years. It also provides for the death penalty in extreme cases of rape that result in death or leaves the victim in a coma. It has also made voyeurism, stalking, acid attacks and the trafficking of women punishable under criminal law.
Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said the government decided to bring in the new law through an ordinance — which allowed it to take effect immediately, though it will have to be approved by Parliament within six months — since it viewed changing the law as a priority.
“The government wants to assure everyone that before it is tabled in Parliament, we will hold wide consultations with all political parties before the bill is introduced,” Chidambaram told reporters.
The protesters near Parliament criticized the new law as a smokescreen, because it doesn’t deal with the issue of marital rape or sexual violence against women by armed forces personnel in conflict zones that had been recommended by the government commission. The new law also ignored the panel’s recommendation to bar politicians facing rape charges from contesting elections.
“(The) recommendations came just a few days back and the government could have spent time on drafting a good bill … a comprehensive bill and brought it to Parliament with candor and sincerity,” said Maimoona Mullah, of the All India Democratic Women’s Association.
In just one month, the panel examined more than 80,000 submissions and produced a 630-page report recommending amendments to the laws governing crimes against women.
The panel was set up weeks after a woman and a male friend were attacked after boarding a bus Dec. 16 as they tried to return home after watching a movie, police said. The six men, the only occupants of the private bus, beat the man with a metal bar, raped the woman and used the bar to inflict massive internal injuries to her, police say. The victims were dumped naked on the roadside, and the woman died from her injuries two weeks later in a Singapore hospital.